I feel so lucky to be at McNeely Elementary. Our staff, students and their families are so diverse and so vibrant. I really believe we are a living example of how diversity can be a huge strength.
This summer I took a course at UBC called UDL and the New BC Curriculum. UDL stands for Universal Design for Learning. Universal Design is a concept from architecture. It means that you design buildings with accessibility for all people in mind, instead of retrofitting or adapting a building after it is built so that people with vision impairments or mobility issues can get around. In education, it means designing learning experiences for all students of all ability levels in mind, rather than planning for the "average" learner and making adaptations later for those who needs them.
We know that there is no such thing as average. As Todd Rose points out in his book, The End of Average: How we succeed in a world that values sameness, when you make something for people who are all the same, you are really making it for nobody, as nobody is the same!
In the summer course, I learned more about inclusive education and the absolute necessity of teachers using universal design to reach every learner. One of our assignments was to work in a group of three to plan a unit of study. My group mates and I were very different in many ways. One was an occupational therapist, not a teacher. The other was a band teacher from a private school. We did not think we had very much in common and I worried that we would struggle with the project. The opposite was true. Because we came from such different backgrounds, we were very open to each other's ideas. We did not compete with one another and were very efficient. We were able to use our individual strengths and contribute individually to the project. In the end, we finished our work long before the other groups and were happy with the results. So was our professor!
I think about how our students and staff come from so many different backgrounds, different cultures, have different strengths and skills. I think this is what makes us such a strong community. We appreciate each other and celebrate our diversity. It brings us together rather than dividing us. perhaps because we share a common goal, the fostering of social, emotional, physical and intellectual well-being of our children. It is like the word ubuntu, "I am, because I belong."